Want sustainable outfits? But why are they so expensive? We find out

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Remember that dusting kapda in your kitchen? Yeah, the one that used to be your dad’s shirt and then went on to become your younger brother’s shirt before it began a new life as that dusting cloth.

Indians have a fascinating relationship with sustainability when it comes to fashion. We’ve long converted our old clothes to dusting kapdas, pochas or passed them on to our younger siblings.

Although the meaning of sustainable clothes in the modern fashion stratosphere means clothes that are made with materials that are not harmful to the environment, sustainability is more of a vibe, as Gen Z would say.

While they are distinct, slow fashion and sustainable fashion are frequently used interchangeably.

Sustainability, as a whole, in fashion is a movement and approach to fashion that emphasises quality and longevity. According to Shivani, founder of her eponymous label Shivanii, it encourages consumers to buy fewer items of higher quality that are ethically produced and have a longer lifespan.

She explained that slow fashion is a specific subset within sustainable fashion, emphasising a slower pace of production and consumption as a means to achieve the said sustainability.

If you have you been wanting to make the switch to sustainable fashion, you might have wondered why most products made under that label are more expensive than your usual clothes. There are several reasons.

A. Manufacturing capacity

Fashion designer Shilpi Gupta tells indianexpress.com that because it is manufactured in small quantities to indicate its exclusivity and uses premium fabrics and materials, sustainable fashion is often pricey.

“When a product is produced in large quantities, the cost per unit is lower than when it is produced in smaller batches. Slow fashion clothing is pricey because creative solutions and materials are more expensive than standard ones.”

slow fashion Sustainability, as a whole, in fashion is a movement and approach to fashion that emphasises quality and longevity. (Source: Unsplash)

B. Quality of the clothes used

Deepa Goel, founder of Siddh Couture, explained that focus of sustainable fashion is on the quality of craftsmanship and construction.

Anurag Saboo, co-founder of DaMENSCH, agreed, saying that “the endeavour to create a product that lasts multiple uses and seasons is what defines the product creation for slow fashion.”

C. Fair wages

Ensuring ethical labour practices also drives the price up, said Shivani. “Transparency in the supply chain and fair wages for workers are important. Ultimately, slow fashion pricing reflects the true cost of creating a responsibly produced, high-quality garment.”

But this does not mean that the thappa (imprint) of sustainability hasn’t been misused.

False claims of sustainability

It was last year in July that a lawsuit was filed against Swedish fast-fashion giant Hennes and Maurtiz, better known as H&M, in a New York federal court, accusing it of “greenwashing” or engaging in false advertising about the sustainability of its clothing that was marketed as “conscious.”

Chelsea Commodore, a marketing student at SUNY New Paltz, initiated the lawsuit claiming she overpaid for a fashion item marketed as “conscious,” which, according to her allegations, did not align with its advertised sustainability. She contended that several products from the brand’s Conscious Collection, promoted as utilising less water in manufacturing, actually consume more water. H&M attributed the discrepancy to technical issues.

While the legal action revolves around the pricing of the garment, the allegations within the lawsuit encompass a comprehensive critique of the global fashion industry and its failure to fulfill promises of reform. These include the use of ambiguous terms like “close the loop” and “a conscious choice,” labeling products as “sustainable.” Most significantly, the lawsuit underscores the exploitation of collective climate guilt to justify charging higher prices for ostensibly similar-quality clothing.

But does this mean you stop buying sustainable clothing or indulging in the larger conversations about slow fashion? Especially because the same cannot be said about smaller, home-grown brands who are pushing the envelope when it comes to this.

slow fashion Sorting through hundreds of tons of clothing in an abandoned factory for a social mission called Clothing the Loop. (Source: Unsplash)

How do you know which product is truly sustainable?

The need is to be more careful in analysing what makes a garment sustainable and how transparent are the policies of the company making it.

The Higg Index of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has members like Amazon and Reformation, provides scorecards revealing the average impact of various materials, including leather, linen, and PVC. These scorecards quantify factors such as water use, water pollution, fossil-fuel use, chemical use, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with each material.

While buying sustainable products, Gupta recommended taking into consideration purchasing classic and long-lasting items. “Avoid following the trends.”

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Saboo suggested using the the price per wear metric to make your buying decisions while Shivani advised exploring second-hand and vintage stores for unique finds.

And finally taking good care of these pieces is just as important, said Deepa, so they can be used multiple times over the years, making them a beautiful asset in your wardrobe for generations.

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